It’s time to welcome the Big Ten and the Mountain West to the 2020 college football season. Week 8 provides a little fuller plate for fans as more teams join the season. That also means there are chances for even more upsets.
Below, we take a look at what’s ahead for Week 8, including the top games to watch and the weekly Top 25 polls.
Week 8 preview: Top games to watch
Nebraska at No. 5 Ohio State | 12 p.m. Saturday | FOX
This isn’t so much because it’s expected to be close until the end. It’s more about how Justin Fields and the Buckeyes are making their season debut in what OSU hopes is and expects to be a championship season. We’ve seen all the other top contenders (non-Big Ten or Pac-12, at least) already, so Ohio State is the biggest missing piece of the 2020 puzzle.
This is also the only game before Ohio State travels to Penn State on Halloween for what is thought to be the most important Big Ten game of the season.
Georgia Southern at No. 25 Coastal Carolina | 12 p.m. Saturday | ESPNU
Welcome to the Top 25, Coastal Carolina. One week after beating a ranked team for the first time in conference foe Louisiana, the Chanticleers now have a spot in the national polls.
But this won’t be easy. Georgia Southern lost on a last-second field goal to then-No. 19 Louisiana earlier this season. The Eagles also beat a ranked Appalachian State in both 2018 and 2019 — with last season’s win the only loss for the Mountaineers. CCU redshirt freshman QB Grayson McCall is an early season surprise: 930 passing yards, 11 touchdowns and only one interception.
No. 17 Iowa State at No. 6 Oklahoma State | 3:30 p.m. Saturday | FOX
With Oklahoma and Texas struggling this season, Iowa State and Oklahoma State have stood out along with K-State as the three remaining conference undefeated teams. ISU has regrouped since falling to Louisiana, while Oklahoma State is the final overall unbeaten Big 12 team at 3-0 (2-0 in the conference).
The big question here is at quarterback for Oklahoma State. The Cowboys haven’t played since crushing Kansas 47-7 on Oct. 3. Shane Illingworth has stepped in for the injured Spencer Sanders, but Oklahoma State may use both against the Cyclones.
No. 18 Michigan at No. 21 Minnesota | 7:30 p.m. Saturday | ABC
This week’s College GameDay spot features two ranked teams that are trying to step out from a rival’s shadow and compete for a division (and potentially conference) title. For Michigan, the Ohio State problem continues to rule over everything. For Minnesota, a wildly successful 11-2 season still included a 21-point loss to Wisconsin in what decided the Big Ten West.
The Gophers’ offense has known stars in QB Tanner Morgan and WR Rashod Bateman. Michigan’s dreams likely depend on new starting QB Joe Milton.
No. 9 Cincinnati at No. 16 SMU | 9 p.m. Saturday | ESPN2
The top-10 Bearcats have looked the part of a New Year’s Six contender, with the two-touchdown win against Army the standout. However, SMU and QB Shane Buechele (1,710 passing yards and 12 touchdowns in five games) stand in the way.
As usual with coach Luke Fickell, Cincinnati has a strong defense that is allowing 12.3 points per game and has intercepted seven passes in only three games.
Big Week 8 questions
Are we headed to another Alabama-Clemson CFP showdown?
Last year marked the first time since the 2014 season that Alabama and Clemson didn’t meet in the College Football Playoff. Is another head-to-head on the way?
There are plenty of games ahead, but both the Tigers and the Tide will be expected to win out against their remaining conference foes. However, there’s an unseen force looming: Ohio State.
The Buckeyes are ranked No. 5 in the AP Poll but are likely the strongest threat to another Alabama-Clemson CFP title game. And since Ohio State plays its season opener this Saturday, it will be easy to see plenty of knee-jerk reactions, whether OSU wins by seven touchdowns or seven points against Nebraska.
But with QB Justin Fields, WR Chris Olave and DB Shaun Wade, among may others, the Buckeyes certainly have the star power and the talent. The Halloween night game at Penn State looks like the toughest hurdle, but even a 1-loss, Big Ten champion Ohio State team might be the toughest out of the CFP outside assumed Alabama and Clemson.
The rest of the Big Ten has other strong teams, including Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Iowa. But the gap between the Buckeyes and the rest is large — Ohio State’s smallest margin of victory last year was 11 points against Penn State.
What will the Mountain West bring this fall?
The Big Ten’s return will get the most attention, but the Mountain West is also back. Along with those midnight ET kicks for four Hawai’i home games, the conference is known for being in the hunt for a New Year’s Six spot.
As usual, Boise State is the favorite, especially after going undefeated in conference play in 2019. Though the Broncos have some new starters on the offensive and defensive lines, QB Hank Bachmeier, RB George Holani and WR Khalil Shakir should all be productive.
There’s probably a perceived gulf after the Broncos, with consistent Wyoming and rising Nevada next. It’s odd that possibly the most intriguing game in the Mountain West this year doesn’t involve two league foes facing off: Boise State plays No. 12 BYU on Friday, Nov. 6, which will be a gigantic boost for Boise State’s New Year’s Six dreams.